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Lewis v. Joyner

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

October 22, 2019

JAMAAL LEWIS, SR., Petitioner,
v.
HECTOR JOYNER, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT E. WIER JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Jamaal Lewis, Sr., is an inmate at the United States Penitentiary (“USP”)-Big Sandy in Inez, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Lewis filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and has paid the $5.00 filing fee. DE 1. In his § 2241 petition, Lewis seeks relief regarding eligibility for parole.

         This matter is before the Court to conduct the initial screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 2243. Alexander v. Bureau of Prisons, 419 Fed.Appx. 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011). A petition will be denied on screening “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the U.S. Dist. Cts. (applicable to § 2241 petitions pursuant to Rule 1(b)).

         I.

         Before screening Lewis's petition, the Court must address a motion for change of venue filed by Lewis (DE 4). As justification for a new venue, Lewis points to two earlier dispositions: Lewis v. Joyner, No. 7:19-cv-24-REW (E.D. Ky. 2019), in which the undersigned dismissed without prejudice Lewis's § 2241 habeas petition for failure to pay the filing fee, and Lewis v. Kizziah, No. 7:17-cv-6-KKC, 2019 WL 722569 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 20, 2019), in which then-Chief Judge Caldwell dismissed Lewis's civil-rights complaint filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 91 S.Ct. 1999 (1971). See DE 4. According to Lewis, these prior dismissals merit a “change of venue where he could get a fair/unbiased judgment based on Sixth Circuit precedent.” Id. Although styled as a motion for change of venue, the substance of Lewis's motion seeks to disqualify the undersigned from ruling on Lewis's petition.

         A judge is required to disqualify himself “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(a). This standard is “not based on the subjective view of a party, ” Burley v. Gagacki, 834 F.3d 606, 615-16 (6th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation omitted), but is instead an objective one, requiring a judge to recuse “if a reasonable, objective person, knowing all of the circumstances, would have questioned the judge's impartiality.” Hughes v. United States, 899 F.2d 1495, 1501 (6th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted).

         Section 455(b)(1) further requires disqualification when a judge “has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). In this context, the words “bias or prejudice” refer to “a favorable or unfavorable disposition or opinion that is somehow wrongful or inappropriate, either because it is undeserved, or because it rests upon knowledge that the subject ought not possess . . . or because it is excessive in degree.” Liteky v. United States, 114 S.Ct. 1147, 1155 (1994) (emphasis in original); see also Williams v. Anderson, 460 F.3d 789, 814 (6th Cir. 2006). To justify recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 455, “[t]he alleged bias must ‘stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.'” Youn v. Track, 324 F.3d 409, 423 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Grinnell Corp., 86 S.Ct. 1698, 1710 (1966)).

         The Sixth Circuit has cautioned that “[t]here is as much obligation upon a judge not to recuse himself when there is no occasion as there is for him to do so when there is.” Easley v. Univ. of Mich. Bd. of Regents, 853 F.2d 1351, 1356 (6th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation omitted); see also Lyell v. Renico, 470 F.3d 1177, 1186-87 (6th Cir. 2006). And, as the Sixth Circuit noted in City of Cleveland v. Krupansky, 619 F.2d 576 (6th Cir. 1980), unnecessary recusals waste judicial resources. Id. at 579. Likewise, granting groundless disqualification motions encourages judge-shopping. See id.

         Here, Lewis proffers no reason why a reasonable, objective person would question the undersigned's impartiality, nor does he make any allegation that the undersigned has knowledge resulting from any extrajudicial activities or exposure to this case. Rather, Lewis argues that the undersigned should recuse because of Lewis's own belief that “either the Court does not know the precedent [of the issues presented in his petition], does not respect it, or will not give the Petitioner a fair and equitable judgment.” See DE 4. As evidence of the Court's bias, Lewis points only to his dissatisfaction with judicial rulings in his other cases. However, “judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion. . . . Almost invariably, they are proper grounds for appeal, not for recusal.” Liteky, 114 S.Ct. at 1157. While Lewis may disagree with the Court's legal conclusions, the proper method to assert his arguments for a different result- once a final judgment has been entered-is to pursue an appeal, which he did not do in either of his prior cases. The Court has considered the factors under 28 U.S.C. § 455 and determines that recusal is neither required nor warranted.

         II.

         Turning to the substance of Lewis's petition, Lewis claims that his current parole-eligibility date, as calculated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), is incorrect. Lewis first presented his challenge to the BOP's calculation by way of a civil-rights complaint filed in this Court pursuant to Bivens. See Lewis v. Kizziah, No. 7:17-cv-6-KKC. In that case, then-Chief Judge Caldwell summarized the facts giving rise to Lewis's argument on parole-eligibility calculation:

On October 6, 2006, Lewis was sentenced by a Department of the Army, General Court-Martial to a life term of confinement with the possibility of parole for his convictions of the following: 1) attempted robbery in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 880; 2) murder in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 918; and 3) aggravated assault with a firearm in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 928. [R. 18, 25-1] While he was serving this sentence, Lewis was again court martialed and sentenced on December 16, 2011 to a 4-year term of confinement for his convictions of: 1) willfully disobeying a superior noncommissioned officer in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 890; 2) mutiny in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 894; 3) damaging military property in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 908; 4) assault and battery in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 928; and 5) kidnapping in violation of 10 U.S.C. § 934. [R. 18-4, 25-1]
Although Lewis began serving his sentence in Army custody at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (“USDB”) at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, he was transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) in July 2012. [R. 18, 25-1] On October 30, 2014, Lewis applied to the United States Parole Commission (“USPC”) for an initial parole hearing. [R. 25-1] Lewis states that the BOP initially calculated his parole eligibility date as September 6, 2015, which coincided with his service of 10 years on his life sentence. [R. 18; 25-1 at p. 3] According to Lewis, although he signed paperwork to appear before the USPC, his case manager at FCI-Hazelton did not turn in the paperwork because she did not believe that Lewis' parole eligibility date was correct. [R. 18] According to Defendant's motion, as the USPC prepared to conduct Lewis' parole hearing, a USPC employee contacted USDB to obtain Lewis' records, at which time a USDB employee informed the USPC employee that, because Lewis was serving a life sentence, he should not be eligible for parole until he has served 20 years of his life sentence. [R. 25; 25-1 at p. 11] Thus, according to the USDB employee, Lewis' parole eligibility date should be changed to September 5, 2025. [Id.]
Accordingly, the BOP changed its computation to correct Lewis' parole eligibility date to September 5, 2025. [R. 18-4 at p. 4] Lewis claims that the BOP is now wrongfully denying him parole privileges because it is enforcing an allegedly inaccurate parole eligibility date. Lewis filed this lawsuit as a ...

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